After eighteen months as the majority shareholder of Sunderland AFC, Kyril Louis-Dreyfus made his first public appearance on Monday evening at a fan-attended question and answer session alongside sporting director Kristjaan Speakman, chief operating officer Steve Davison and non-executive director Dave Jones.
There were many topics discussed, including the playoff final victory, the club’s transfer strategy, potential stadium improvements, fan safety, Alex Neil’s departure and Tony Mowbray’s appointment, the upcoming trip to Dubai, how the season is progressing, and Ross Stewart’s contractual situation.
Here is a summary of the evening’s events.
Vision and ambition
Dreyfus opened the proceedings and explained why he had taken a back seat regarding fan dialogue during the first eighteen months of his tenure.
The reason he provided for this was to evaluate the structure and to put the correct people in place to enable the club to move forward. Now, he is willing to participate in more open dialogue with supporters.
He explained how proud and delighted he was about the Wembley win and finally getting out of League One. Two candidates for ‘quotes of the evening’ came from Dave Jones, who said, ‘Thank God we are out of that s**t league’, and Steve Davison, who celebrated by ‘ripping up the League One budget on the bus back home’.
The board maintained that they will not spend money for the sake of spending, unlike previous owners.
Speakman in particular was very clear about the transfer policy and the use of data to help identify players, alongside head of recruitment Stuart Harvey. Dreyfus was adamant that no player would be signed unless they bought into the vision of the club and clearly wanted to play for Sunderland.
The scouting system has also been ‘beefed up’, with scouts both in the UK and abroad tasked with identifying the best talent.
Jones said that, one day, we may arrive at the stage where we can ‘sell players for a profit’, similar to Brighton and Brentford, but we are not there yet. The vision from the club is clear: to keep improving, developing players and getting the infrastructure in place so that when we do get back to the Premier League, we are fully prepared - which in my view is the right approach.
Potential stadium improvements
Davison explained that the club are seeking to make improvements to the infrastructure of the Stadium of Light, starting as early as the World Cup break.
After twenty five years at the stadium the club are looking forward to the next twenty five, and while Davison did not reveal the extent of the improvements he did advise us that more enhanced technology is being looked at and will be introduced in the coming months and years to improve the overall fan experience.
Concerts and university graduations will be continuing at the stadium, and Davison also addressed fan safety concerns, revealing that away fans may be moved to the lower bowl in the future.
Davison has also contacted the EFL to arrange a league meeting to discuss safety for supporters across the whole division, and the club are awaiting to hear back from the EFL.
A change of head coach
The conversation then switched to Alex Neil’s departure and Tony Mowbray’s appointment.
When the club sacked Lee Johnson, Mowbray was considered as a potential replacement. However, given his contractual situation at Blackburn, the club did not pursue it any further. The board interviewed Neil three times before his appointment, and he was chosen due to his exploits at Norwich and Preston. Dreyfus declared that the best thing he has done at Sunderland was appointing Neil.
Further down the line, the club made numerous contract offers to Neil, but Stoke came in for him and off he went.
Speakman and Dreyfus disclosed that they offered Neil a much higher wage than they even wanted to, but they also hinted that something in Stoke must’ve attracted Neil more than staying at Sunderland.
They identified Mowbray for his integrity, how good he is for player and staff morale and his ability to develop young players, as well as the fact that he ‘got what the city was about’.
Mowbray was appointed swiftly after Neil’s departure and is fully behind the club’s transfer policy and business model. As he revealed a couple of weeks ago, the club are travelling to Dubai for a warm weather training camp, and Speakman disclosed that we will be playing a friendly on the 26th November, with the opposition to be announced in due course.
Regarding the current season, Speakman and Dreyfus said that they are reasonably happy with how things are progressing.
However, everyone at the club is not happy with the team’s home form and are hoping that good results are around the corner. Speakman confirmed that planning for the January transfer window has already begun; players may come in and some players may leave, and staff and player evaluations are going ahead at the time of writing.
Ross Stewart’s contractual situation
Fans were eagerly awaiting updates regarding Ross Stewart, but unfortunately, there was no news to report.
Dreyfus, Davison, Jones and Speakman confirmed that talks are ongoing but wouldn’t give assurances on his future. They praised Stewart and all the players for their efforts this season, and advised the fans to stick with this team.
In summary, the meeting was very positive and I felt that all four representatives answered the questions openly and honestly. It was an enjoyable evening, and the direction of the club is clear.
What was also reassuring is the fact that there is constant dialogue and communication with all board members, all of whom seem to want the best for Sunderland AFC.
We have had a very decent start to the season, and now it’s time to stay behind the players and show the league that Sunderland are back.